Best Touring Motorcycle of the Year Winner: Harley-Davidson Touring Line

2017 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

Touring motorcycles with their plethora of luxury features tend to be the flagship models for manufacturers because touring riders demand comfort, handling, big power, weather protection, and storage space – and they’re willing to pay for it. Thanks to the Project Rushmore upgrades first seen in the 2014 model year, the ‘Glides have delivered first-class accommodations and the technological features touring riders expect. Just take a look at the Boom! infotainment system and the LED Daymaker headlight. Be it with a frame-mounted fairing as with the Road Glide or a fairing-mounted one on the Electra Glides (among others), the Harley-Davidson touring line commanded a large portion of the luxury touring market. Still, the Twin Cam engine had begun to show its age.

Well, all that changed in 2017 with the release of the Milwaukee-Eight engine. The most obvious change in the powerplant is right there in each engine’s model name – four valves per cylinder for a total of eight tappets escorting the combustibles in and out of the party. The Twin Cam 103 engine grew to 107 cu. in. thanks to its new bore and stroke of 3.937 in. x 4.375 in. (99.999mm x 111.125mm) while the 110 jumped up to 114 cu. in. via its 4.0-in. x 4.5-in. (101.6mm x 114.3mm) bore and stroke. Besides being larger in displacement, the engine’s four-valve head is said to flow 50% more than the Twin Cam’s. Two different variants of the M-E engine were created to handle the heat the expected touring loads the bikes would handle. The Twin-Cooled heads utilize liquid-cooling from water-jackets around the exhaust valves while the standard M-E uses oil to carry heat away.

In response to customer requests, the Milwaukee-Eight engine is a claimed 75% smoother at idle. Once underway, vibration is not an issue until the upper reaches of the rpm range. While one might expect an engine which Harley states has 20% more flywheel mass to rev more slowly than before, that would be wrong. Instead, blipping the throttle at idle has the engine spin up much more quickly than previous Big Twins from the Motor Company. Out on the highway, the comparison to the Twin Cam engine is all positive. Coupled with the torque-assist clutch, which reduces lever effort by a claimed 7%, the riding experience is much improved.

Harley’s engineers also took the opportunity to upgrade the suspension. The shocks are now large-piston emulsion-style items, with the left shock gaining a knob to hydraulically adjust the rear preload. Gone is the air-adjustable preload that could leak over time, allowing the suspension to settle and use up its travel. Now that the left shock features hydraulically adjustable preload, the rider simply cranks on more or less preload, and it stays set, forever. The range of preload adjustability is now 30% larger than previously.

Harley-Davidson’s big changes to its touring line have taken already comfortable and tricked out mileage gobblers and increased the level of performance. The Milwaukee-Eight engine is, quite simply, a joy to operate, delivering ample power across the bagger and touring rig offerings. The suspension contributes to a more enjoyable riding experience for both rider and passenger. Rather than an annual, iterative update to its existing line, each of the Milwaukee-Eight-equipped motorcycles we had the pleasure of riding felt like a different motorcycle with the boost in power and handling. For this reason, the Harley-Davidson touring line wins the MO Best Touring Motorcycle of the Year.

Honorable Mention: BMW K1600GT/GTL

081116-mobo-best-touring-bmw-k1600gtlIn our opinion, almost nothing matches BMW’s K1600GT/GTL when it comes to combining all the comfort and amenities we expect to find in a touring mount. It’s uber comfortable and delivers shockingly good performance. We even included the GT model in our 2014 Heavyweight Sport-Touring Shootout. Still, as good as the Beemer is, it returned essentially unchanged for 2017 while the category winner, Harley-Davidson made some great strides forward.

However, the K1600 outfitted in either GT or GTL guise is sportier than anything else in the Touring class, and consequently, still deserves praise. Every facet of the bike, from the Duolever front end and optional electrically adjustable suspension, combine to deliver an exhilarating ride at high speeds in both the straight up and down and deep lean angles. The inline six-cylinder accelerates like nobody’s business and provides intoxicating music for gear head’s ears.

This year, BMW may have been bested in the touring class, but one thing we know about the company is that it never sits still. We expect that, like it has in the past, BMW will find a way to set the touring bar higher, giving its competitors something to aim for.

080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-motorcycle-of-the-year 080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-value 080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-sportbike
080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-cruiser 081517-mobo-categories-2017-touring-winner 081417-mobo-categories-2017-standard-winner
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080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-streetfighter-hooligan 080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-lightweight-entry-level 080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-scooter
080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-electric 080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-technology 080117-MOBO-Categories-2017-product

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  • John A. Smith

    “No, seriously, guys, we’ve gotta throw Harley at least one bone or they’re gonna cut us off.”

    • Gabriel Owens

      Savage burn.

    • Old MOron

      I upvoted you because there is no way the Harley tourers are better than the beemer spaceship. No way. Seems like Harley got the nod because they bested their own ancient Twin Cam bikes!

      On the other hand…

      The Street Glide tied for first place in the Baggers Brawl. (Exellent shootout!)

      In the shootout, Trizzle and T-rod were the two MOrons who didn’t rank the Harley first in their subjective scores. And since they’ve moved on, it stands to reason that their influence is diminished. Meanwhile, Evans and JB, who ranked the Harley first in their subjective scores, are still here and still wearing their assless chaps.

      So I can accept the MOronic notion that HD beat the other bagger OEM’s this year.

      Ahem, but not the Beemer.

      • Evans Brasfield

        OM, the chaps were supposed to be our little secret.

  • Gabriel Owens

    K1600 is worth it just because the sound it makes.

    Yamaha will win this next year. Mark it down.

  • John B.

    It doesn’t surprise me the first character assassination of these awards comes in the comments to an article Evans wrote. I guess Evans is a lightning rod this time of year.

    Finally a category to argue about. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the Harleys to say anything intelligent.

    The Beemer is sweet, however, and 2016 models are selling at a deep discount where I live.

    • John A. Smith

      I think the problem is that it was awarded to an entire line of motorcycles on the basis of HD having made “improvements” to their the engines and suspension. But the article doesn’t say, or even suggest, that these made the HD line any better than the competition. Under that logic, if HD was a 6/10 product, and improved to a 8/10 product, but BMW was a 9/10 product last year, and remains a 9/10 product, HD wins. Participation trophy, imho.

      • John B.

        I hear you. I can’t agree or disagree, however, because I have not to date read much about HD motorcycles. I’m not a joiner, and the whole HD culture thing is not my bag. That said, when I travel on motorcycle trips I see gaggles of HD riders having a great time, and I’m glad to see that.

        • Old MOron

          “Finally a category to argue about…”
          “I hear you. I can’t agree or disagree…”

          You may want to argue a little harder than that, Counselor. 🙂

          • John B.

            Between work, family life, Charlottesville, Trump, statues coming down, and my crusade against Tex-Mex, I’m all argued out….

          • Old MOron

            Hmm, maybe get yourself an uber to the nearest real Mexican place, have some pozole and mezcal, and recuperate. Commiserations.

      • John A. Stockman

        Hey, ride what you like. I’ve ridden many HD models throughout the decades, from the Aermacchi models, through the AMF crap-show, new Evo models (I was excited when HD was rescued from AMF along with a complete re-design), Sportsters, Road Glides, V-Rods, Street Glides, Dynas, Electras, etc. Prior to 2008, I detested the poor handling of the FL chassis, and add in 2″ of suspension travel made something tolerable not tolerable at all. The hinge-in-the-middle feeling was mostly gone after the big twin frame re-design. Poor suspension travel and a ridiculously shallow lean angle capability still plagued the entire model line. 24 degrees? My Ural Tourist could do more than that! I’ve ridden with those “gaggles” of HD enthusiasts, although never as a Harley owner. While they were very nice folks and would stop to help anyone (and accepted me not riding a Harley), the riding skills part was not very good. Talking to them, not demanding or criticizing, about some informal parking lot practice (which I did at least once a month, it’s fun), maybe some group training sessions, or even wearing some better kit was met with derision and animosity. Hey, not mandatory, not demanding it happens, just that it might be fun to get together in an empty parking lot locally and practice a little. I might as well have insulted their mums. I’ve had to politely excuse myself from some of those rides/gaggles because it became obvious right away they care more about how cool they look than the level of their riding skills. Yet, ridden with many who are skilled motorcyclists, so it’s not an across-the-board mind set that all are not interested in training or practice. Rode with a guy I met at a mom/pop diner in eastern BC for 3 days through Saskatchewan and Alberta, who was riding an early Evo Electra Glide, me on a GL1500. He knew some great two lane roads and his skill-set was high. Definitely not an HD-lifestyle follower, always wore his full kit while we were riding together. Individuals welcome, but you have to ride this brand and wear this gear, kinda the opposite of “individual.”

        • John A. Smith

          Oh, I don’t doubt that HD can make a decent motorcycle, or that their riders are any different than any other brand enthusiasts, I just didn’t care for the designation of the entire line as the motorcycle of the year for, it seems, no reason other than that they’ve improved things since a few years ago. I’ve ridden them recently; the engine is a clear improvement, and I’d say it’s now in the same realm as BMW and Honda — but the big HDs remain terrifyingly poor handlers. In 25 years of street riding, I can honestly say that I haven’t ridden anything as disturbingly unsettled below 15 mph as a full dress HD.

          • Douglas

            Watch some of the PD demo teams on UTube….nearly all use Road Kings and they do some really tight precision maneuvers with nary a scrape. I went thru a 2 phase training course by a local suburban PD that had 1st rate facilities. Initial one I took my Vulcan 1600….big mistake. Too much rake and wide bars, not a good combo for low-spd dodging pylons and staying inside the box. 2d time took the EGlide (’06 model), and a vast improvement. Could turn tighter with less effort and more precision.(And the 09’s & up are even better).

            There are lots of Shriner cycle teams, most of whom use H-D’s, and they’re as good as most of the police teams. They gave a lot of input to Harley on parade riding,which requires the best control at low speeds, due to crowds lining the curbs.

            Haven’t ridden a 4 or 6cyl Beemer ever, and not been on a ‘Wing for a long time (and never on a new Indian), so can’t offer much there….but have seen a guy on a GL1800 on some twisties in North Arkansas around Eureka Sprs stay ahead of a couple of CBR’s (I think they were 600’s and they were tryin’ HARD to get around him). But they he wasn’t your average weekender….he was good.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    I am glad Indian didn’t win this category (that tells you something). Actually they haven’t won anything so far. KTM won Best Lightweight/Entry-Level (390 Duke), Best Streetfighter/Hooligan (1290 Super Duke R – honorable mention), Best Adventure (1290 Super Adventure), Best Sport-Touring (1290 Super Duke GT) and Best Value (390 Duke). Suzuki won Best Technology (GSX-R1000 VVT – honorable mention). So all three bikes I own (Harley, KTM and Suzuki) have won something 🙂

    • hipsabad

      those are all in your stable?

      • Sayyed Bashir

        I own a Harley, a KTM and a Suzuki.

    • Jon Jones


    • John A. Stockman

      Very nice line up! I know many folks here in the NW that are racing the KTM390. That would be a dream line up for me, opening the garage door and seeing those great bikes, having to pick one to ride that day, what a choice.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        The KTM race bike is the RC 390 not the Duke 390.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    If it were up to me, I would close this category with eternal winner – K1600. I understand that it wouldn’t be interesting for the readers, but in reality you just can’t beat that BMW… It’s like a starship compared to the competition.

    • Bubba Blue

      Hanging around BMW dealers is a drag.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        The oldest BMW dealer in this area A&S Motorcycles also sells Ducati, Triumph, Vespa and Piaggio so there is a lot of stuff to look at. Plus they hold regular events.

  • Starmag

    I “get” touring model Harleys for when the road is flat and boring, you’re comfortable and the engine sounds great. I stay away from roads like that on purpose though, so there’s no way I’d pick the Harley over the K1600. Plus Duke claims it does nice wheelies.

  • Not unexpected nor original.

  • For what people who buy a Harley touring bike desire, the HDs perform the tasks perfectly. It’s all in the expectations. In no objective measurement is an Electra Glide Ultra Classic the equal or superior to the BMW K1600GTL. [disclosure: long time BMW boxer owner]

    Do you notice that there are no case lid replacements for a BMW that are big speaker enclosures? I see many Street Glides that are rolling boomboxes in the DFW area.

    In the end, all other brands have one deficit that only a Harley can fulfill, because when you buy a Harley you get a whole prefab lifestyle complete with wardrobe, you get an instant calendar of events if your dealer is any good and frankly that added value of ‘belonging to the club’ is more powerful than any smooth 6-cylinder German precision will ever be.

  • quadman2

    Gold Wing #1!! Enough said!!

    • Kind of like a 1992 Crown Vic.

      • quadman2

        I love Harleys new technology! Well except
        when it shut down on me in construction traffic coming back from the Florida Keys.

        • I wouldn’t know, I don’t own one, never have. I have ridden them though.

        • Jon Jones

          Details? Model year?

          • quadman2

            2017 Road Glide Ultra

          • Jon Jones

            Sorry to hear. Quick fix? Dealer take good care of you?

          • quadman2

            Was on the way to return when it happened. Told them about it but they realy didn’t say anything about it. I’ve since learned that if you roll the throttle forword it cuts out one cylinder so it will run cooler. It would have been nice to know while I was out on the road. Also the GPS locked up so I had no dirrections or radio. What do you ride?

          • Jon Jones

            A nice range of Japanese stuff. I’ll pick up a nice used HD some fine day to add to my modest but sweet fleet. I’m missing a traditional cruiser. Never had an HD, but used prices are dropping in the saturated market.

            I’m in the industry as an exploited, overworked and unloved mechanic. Just interested in how HD handles things when their motorbikes have issues. Their newer bikes are an interesting mix of cutting-edge tech and an established formula.

            My best.

          • quadman2

            Enjoy them that’s what they’re for. When you get your Harley there is a 2 unit fan system called Love jugs. It bolts behind the horn and blows cool air across the cylinders. That way you’ll keep your motor cool and have that love you’re looking for.
            Take care!!

          • In AZ, unless one ditches the stock exhaust and retunes, the leg gets cooked. Same with Indian.

          • Jon Jones

            Great call!

            All the best!

  • Dmitrii Kilishek

    Ok… I tired K1600B Bagger and Harley CVO StreetGlide and Harley RoadGlide Special. There’s no way Harley can be better than BMW. Yes, Harleys are legendary and there’s a huge audience around them… but! Of all Harleys I’ve ridden… CVO StreetGlide was the best… lets check the price $39k+ now let’s check 2018 BMW K1600 BAGGER – 25k… other k1600 models at $28k top… need less to say I believe.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    Unlike HD. BMW forces you to go to the dealer to turn off their silly maintenance light. Something I shouldnt have to pay to get it turned off.

    • I ignore it.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        On the KTM it will nag you with a service message every time you turn on the bike.

        • Mine too. I ignore it.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Which KTM do you have?

          • I implied my bike shows it each time I start it and I ignore it. It’s a 2009 BMW R1200RT. If you look at the original poster of this subthread, he’s talking about BMWs. Troll.

    • Jon Jones

      Agreed. Hate that crap. KTMs have the same nonsense.

    • Fred Oliff

      same with Ducati Panigale

  • Bubba Blue

    I tried. But I can’t cut a check that big. I got a lightly used ’13 Glide Ultra for $10,800. It needed tires, battery and 10K check.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Good price for a Ultra Glide.

  • Kings

    Still love my Gl 1200 Aspencade

    • Jon Jones

      Almost ended my career doing major work on a Limited Edition GL1200 a couple of years ago.

      Early high-tech stuff is the WORST to wrench on.

  • Ronald Vennell

    I made much the same calculation back in 2014 between the K1600GTL, ‘Wing, Victory CC and Harley Limited. I ended up with the Limited, also my first Harley in over 40 years of riding.

  • Buzz

    I think the biggest improvement BMW needs to make is in the Infotainment (Lordy I hate that word). Your phone can’t connect via BT. Satellite radio sounds horrible. It’s just very wonky to use and not nearly as good as the HD and Indian systems.

    Mine has Remus cans and just totally howls.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    I would not be comfortable with a bike that drops a cylinder by design at stops, so no Milwaukee-8 for me.